What is there left to reject when the subculture goes pedestrian?
Beat, hippie, punk, grunge … hipster? Unlike the counterculture of decades past, people today aren’t afraid of hipsters and their radicalism — they just think they’re annoying.
That sense of irk is probably due to the ambiguity of the word “hipster,” which was coined in the 1940s to describe jazz musicians and now represents V-necks and pseudo-intellectualism.
It seems that hipster is too often used as a synonym for anything young and stylish. Given the vapid, self-absorbed connotations that go along with it, most scorn the label. Has “hipster” become the catch-all term for individuality? Or is it just the opposite?
After all, retailers like Urban Outfitters — founded in Philadelphia — have made the hipster look available to that equally loathed entity — the mainstream. When I went down to the campus UO to interview some employees, I was interrupted by a manager with heavy bangs who told me they “aren’t allowed to give out information.” About what, I’m not sure. Probably too cool for me anyway.
Maybe we should just accept that everyone’s a little bit hipster. Once a word stops meaning anything, it kind of starts meaning everything.
Trends like these, despite their (often self-imposed) semblance of exclusivity, are nothing new. What is new is the broadband speed at which they can spread. Maybe the hipster fad went sour almost as soon as it got started because of overexposure and overuse.
Last year, The New York Times used the word “hipster” more than 250 times. There are a countless number of blogs devoted to “things hipsters hate,” hipster puppies, hipster baby names. I came across a hipster Star Wars site and had to stop.
Perhaps the hipster trend is really just a reflection of the youth movement redux of the last few years. Young people, ever since the cultural changes of the 1960s, have dominated the American consumer market. Thanks to the internet, that dominance is more visible than ever before.
Companies like Apple, with peppy ad songs and minimalist packaging, have built their whole marketing aesthetic on appealing to twenty- and thirty-somethings. J.Crew, a brand that 10 years ago was known for its sensible chinos and sturdy polos, now sells sequined miniskirts. But are these changes only superficial? Are we giving hipsters too much credit?
The internet has also had a leveling effect on what’s considered “indie.” Increased availability of music, movies and media has made what was once exclusive readily accessible to anyone with a computer — Mac or PC. Now, in order to be exposed to something new and artsy, you don’t have to go down to some smoky Greenwich Village cafe or SoCal commune. You can just go on Tumblr.
This shift in what was once obscure becoming well-known can be seen the institutionally recognized achievements of alternative bands like Arcade Fire, who recently won the Grammy for Album of the Year.
Engineering freshman Mark Eisen, who hosts a radio show on WQHS, doesn’t view the new popularity of formerly unknown bands as a bad thing. “Personally, I’m happy when people discover new music,” Eisen said. “That’s what I try to do on my show … There’s nothing weird about Arcade Fire, they’re just good.”
So, maybe it doesn’t make sense to reject something good simply because it might be slightly tainted with irony and spandex.
Where do we draw the line between what’s hipster and what’s cool?
Maybe it’s better to not draw a line at all. We shouldn’t avoid good-but-unusual bands, books, movies, clothes or anything out of a fear of looking like a hipster. Because by trying to be cooler than cool, we’re really just missing out.
Rachel del Valle is a College freshman from Newark, N.J. Her e-mail address is delvalle@theDP.com. Duly Noted appears every other Friday.Comments powered by Disqus
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